Finger puppets are little puppets that slip onto a single finger. I think they are great educational toys for children of three to five years. I often use them in the finger play activities that form part of my balanced preschool music lesson plans. Finger plays are one of the ten kinds of activity I do in each weekly music lesson.
Why are finger puppets so good? Because they help children develop dexterity by giving them a reason to playfully manipulate the muscles on the top and palm of the hands and in the wrists. (There are actually no muscles in the fingers.) Little growing hands need to develop fine muscle control before we can expect them to do the hard work of guiding pencils to form letters. Or, harder still, playing single notes on a piano or violin with all five fingers. Now that’s really tiring fine muscle control – so let’s have lots of play before our expectations get too high. Play is the child’s work!
Today’s finger play song is Come Dance Little Thumbkin (you can hear a sample of how it goes if you click on the title and scroll down). It’s a long song but it’s quite easy to sing because there are five repetitions of the same verse.
For the activity, you need two finger puppets of any variety for you and two more for each child. I found these knitted ones at the Central Market in my home town. You can buy them or better still, make some with your child/ren out of felt, wool or thin rolled card. (Or if you sew, you could improvise by using your thimbles -very folksy and traditional.)
Spend some time playing with the puppets, making funny voices, interacting with the puppets and your child/ren. When you think the time feels about right, take two puppets and put them on your thumbs. Invite your child/ren to do the same but if they don’t, just go ahead and sing the first verse. In between verses change the puppets over to the next finger. They’ll probably copy you but don’t stop and insist they join in, just go right on with the song and activity. Your job is to model the song- not “teach” it.
Use a different voice for each finger, finishing with a baby voice for the little finger. It’s important to keep it playful and to show that you are enjoying making the puppets come alive. Perform it with gusto! The song is important but you, the singer, are even more so. This is crucial communication time.
Once again, don’t worry if the child/ren don’t do exactly as you do, especially with three year-olds! You will probably find them playing the game or their version of it some time in the next day or so. Or maybe they won’t let you discover them but they could be playing it privately, even silently.
Recently I learned from a puppetry educator that children in early childhood will face their puppets in towards them and not away to an audience because they have not yet developed that distancing point of view that separates them as an entity. So don’t expect puppet shows from this age. Their plays are for their own benefit, not yours!
Remember, songs are toys for the mind and they carry them always.
If you don’t read music and would like two audio versions of the song (backing track and vocal track) and the lyrics on a chart for your wall, you can buy the complete activity and other finger plays from the Musical Child website by clicking here. We want to support you singing to and with your child/ren.